Leaders of the Swaziland Youth Congress (SWAYOCO) have been arrested ahead of a planned protest rally due today (Saturday 28 February 2009).
Wandile Dludlu, the SWAYOCO President and other members of the banned organization, were taken by police in dawn raids yesterday at Msunduza Township in the kingdom’s capital, Mbabane.
Thabile Zwane, SWAYOCO Secretary General, is said to be on the run from police.
Dludlu was later charged with an offence under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.
According to SWAYOC, about 50 police raided houses in search of pamphlets advertising the rally to protest at the jailing of Mario Masuku, the President of another banned organization, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO).
Phindangene Mndzebele, Deputy President of SWAYOCO, in a statement said, the home of Dumsile Masuku, the sister of former president of SWAYOCO, Bongane Masuku, was one of the homes raided.
‘Dumsile was harassed by the close to fifty police officers and her home was turned upside down by the overzealous police who don’t have anything to do but only harass and intimidate members of SWAYOCO,’ he said.
Swaziland’s illegally-appointed Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini had threatened SWAYOCO that it would feel the full force of the law if the rally scheduled for 2pm at Msunduza went ahead. Last November Dlamini declared SWAYOCO and three other political entities, including PUDEMO, to be terrorist organizations. This means that members and supporters could face up to 20 years in jail.
The Swazi state has been intimidating pro-democracy advocates since Dlamini was appointed Prime Minister in October 2008. A number of police raids have taken place on people suspected of being supporters of banned movements.
The US State Department, in its annual country report on Swaziland released this week, noted in the past year, ‘Government agents continued to commit or condone serious abuses, and the human rights situation in the country deteriorated.’
These abuses included, ‘police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force on detainees; police impunity; arbitrary arrests and lengthy pretrial detention; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; restrictions on freedoms of speech and press and harassment of journalists; restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and movement; prohibitions on political activity and harassment of political activists’.
In his statement, Mndzebele said, ‘Why is the government scared of a rally because all SWAYOCO rallies have been peaceful it is not the duties of the police to ban marches and use the same torture methods used by the apartheid regime the duties of the police is to maintain peace and order and the rally has not even begun but our leaders have been arrested.’
SWAYOCO confirmed that today’s rally will go ahead as planned.
Swazi Police spokesman Superintendent Vusi Masuku warned those who attended the rally that they would be committing an offence because SWAYOCO is a banned organization.
Masuku told the Weekend Observer, ‘We still insist that they should call the rally off as we the police will definitely crush it.’